What Is a Wildlife Conservationist?

Research what it takes to become a wildlife conservationist. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average salary, and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Environmental & Social Sustainability degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Wildlife Conservationist Do?

Wildlife conservationists are conservation scientists who focus their work specifically on the protection of wildlife. They may do so through fieldwork, laboratory research, consulting or policy advocacy. Areas of focus include: how humans affect wildlife; animals' impact on humans, such as pollinating or damaging crops; wildlife with declining populations, such as bats; or the negative impact of one animal species upon another. They may also look at wildlife habitats, such as running lab tests to find out how chemical pollution or climate change is affecting the wildlife in a stream. Based on the results of their analyses, wildlife conservationists may write reports for interested parties, including policymakers, landowners, industry leaders and the general public.

This table provides degree requirements, education, and occupational information for conservation scientists and foresters, which are related fields.

Degree RequiredBachelor's, master's
Education Field of StudyAgricultural science, environmental science, forestry, rangeland management
Key SkillsAnalytical, critical thinking, decision-making, speaking
LicensureFifteen states provide certification, licensure, or registration for foresters.
Job Growth (2014-2024)7% for all conservation scientists*
Median Salary (2015)$61,110 for all conservation scientists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Wildlife Conservationist?

Wildlife conservation societies and organizations hire individuals who work to save wild lands and wildlife through conservation and education. Conservationists work in local government offices, as well as in parks and zoos where they push to change people's attitudes about the importance of resource and wildlife conservation. They meet with professional business representatives and other conservationists to promote green technology, reduce pollution and help preserve natural wildlife habitats. They may also work in consulting, advising businesses and other entities about how best to avoid impact to forests and other natural resources.

Where Will I Work?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as many as 79% of conservation scientists worked for government agencies as of 2015 (www.bls.gov). A large part of your job will be to help cultivate new donors and raise funds through written proposals, brochures and personal visits. You may also travel to distant locations to examine endangered habitats, discuss policy with government officials and local authorities and petition funds to bring awareness to the cause.

Many conservationists also work in zoos, national parks and aquaria, dividing their time between field and office work. At the zoo or aquarium, you may work with a director of foundation relations by proofreading proposals, reports, and correspondences designated for foundation donors. You may also help identify endangered environments and species as well as helping regenerate natural habitats by protecting and monitoring the progress and development of targeted areas.

Conservation scientists who work at the management level promote wildlife conservation by locating private and government donors, maintaining databases of donors and grants, meeting with representatives of various groups, presenting conservation plans and offering participation in select projects. To present accurate information to potential donors, you also oversee the production of financial reports, work plans, implementation plans and other documents that you may also publish in the form of program brochures, Web pages, technical papers or department newsletters.

What Education Do I Need?

Colleges and universities offer a wide variety of degrees to prepare students for careers in wildlife conservation and management. To qualify for entry-level jobs, you'll need a bachelor's degree in wildlife science or a related field. Possible majors include wildlife ecology, wildlife management and wildlife conservation. Because of programs' proximities to various types of ecological settings, you may find programs that focus on forests, fisheries or other environments.

Since you'll be interacting with many different specialists, you'll need excellent interpersonal and communication skills, along with keen ability to work in a range of cultural contexts. You'll also need to build skills and experience with fundraising. It's recommended that you take some courses in business administration, communication and public and resource policy to help you understand complicated environmental regulations and policies.

How Much Will I Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2015 that the median annual salary for conservation scientists was $61,110 (www.bls.gov). At that time, earners at the 25th percentile made around $47,270, while those at the 75th percentile took home roughly $76,140. Those who earned the most worked for scientific research and development services, with those in the federal government and employment services also earning relatively high annual salaries.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you would rather focus your work on forests than wildlife, you could get a job as a forester. These professionals oversee forest management efforts, including forest fire prevention strategies and vegetation regeneration projects. They need at least a bachelor's degree. Another possible occupational option is a career as an environmental engineer, where you would draw on conservation research to develop solutions to environmental problems. To get an entry-level engineering job, you need at least a bachelor's degree in the field.

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